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NHL introduces new COVID-19 protocols, including requiring players to stay at home

Some tougher restrictions on players and staff.

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With cancellations piling up and the league desperate to avoid a league-wide shutdown, the NHL and the NHLPA jointly announced a new series of COVID-19 protocols, which went into effect immediately.

The league added that they expect these measures to remain in effect until the end of February, at the earliest.

Most notable among them is a new “stay at home” order for players, coaches, trainers, equipment staff, and any other employees traveling with the team.

The new policy requires the aforementioned people “to remain at home and not leave their place of residence except to attend practices and games, to exercise outdoors on an individual basis, to perform essential activities (e.g., go to the doctor), or to deal with family or other emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances.”

The league also added that “other discretionary activities by household members, such as social engagements” should be limited as well.

It’s certainly the responsible thing to do, and you’d hope that the players weren’t running around town to begin with, but it’s a bit of a tough sell to essentially mandate that players, staff, and their families stay home.

It’s also hard to enforce, as “essential activities” is pretty broad.

Additionally, the league will start administering “point of care” testing to all players, officials, and near-the-bench personnel on game days.

Other changes include:

  • Players and staff must wear face masks at all times when they’re not exercising, including in the locker room (which implies between periods, but that wasn’t explicitly stated). Players aren’t required to wear masks on the bench.
  • No in-person team meetings will be allowed. Players will also be instructed to limit their time together in hotels/on the road, and players’ lounges on the road must close by midnight.
  • Players who tested positive and recovered are going to be used as “buffers,” as the league says there’s evidence that recovered people are immune to reinfection for 90 days or so. Basically, they’re going to take these human buffers and stick them next to not-sick people on buses, planes, and trains to reduce transmission. Bold strategy.
  • The league also added that they’ll improve ventilation behind the benches and in the penalty box area.

So there you have it: as mentioned above, a desperate attempt to stop the season from spiraling into a shutdown.

While these measures are all well and good, the fact remains that this is a sport where players are almost constantly breathing at full exertion, reducing billions of potentially infectious particles that hang around ice level due to the temperature/humidity conditions.

Hockey’s a dream sport for COVID, and while the attempts to keep it out via quarantine, masking off the ice, etc. are admirable, the threat of a mass exposure due to a single player or official being positive will always be there.

Here’s to hoping these new measures help, but I’m not optimistic that they’ll make much of a dent.